Russian and Chinese Stance on North Korea is Consistent with the Old Days Comradeship

7 12 2017

tbs eFMMy interview with Alex Jensen (tbs eFM Radio 101.3 MHz, Seoul) about the Russian and Chinese stance on North Korea.

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Imagining the Catastrophic Consequences of a New War in Korea

27 09 2017

New War in Korea(Leonid Petrov for Daily Telegraph, 23 September 2017) The 1953 Armistice Agreement brought a sustainable halt to the Korean War, but has never ended it. Nor did it transform into a peace regime. During the last sixty four years the North and South Koreans live in the conditions of neither-war-nor-peace, which has certain advantages and downsides for both regimes separated by the Demilitarised Zone.

For the communist government in the North, the continuing war provides legitimacy and consolidates the masses around the Leader, who does not need to justify his power or explain the economic woes. For the export-oriented economy and steadily democratising society of South Korea, the continuing war against communism provides broad international sympathy, which is translated into the staunch security alliance and economic cooperation with the US. Any change (intentional or inadvertent) in the current balance of power or threat on the peninsula would lead to immediate re-adjustment or re-balancing of the equilibrium.

Military provocations of the North, does not matter how grave or audacious (i.e. 1968 guerrilla attack on the Blue House in Seoul, 1968 the USS Pueblo incident, 1976 Axe Murder Incident, 2002 naval clashes in the West Sea, the 2010 ROK corvette Cheonan sinking or Yeonpyeong Island shelling), have never led to the resumption of war. Similarly, peace and reconciliation-oriented initiatives (i.e. the 1972 Joint North-South Korean Communiqué, the 1991 Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, or the 2000 North–South Joint Declaration) inevitably end with a bitter disappointment. It seems that both Koreas are destined to live in the perpetual fear of war without really experiencing it.

Regional neighbours find this situation annoying but acceptable because the reunification of Korea can be potentially dangerous for some and advantageous for others. The Cold War mentality persists in Northeast Asia and dictates to its leaders to exercise caution in any decisions related to the Korean peninsula, which is known to be the regional balancer. After the WWII, Korea was divided by the great powers for a good reason – to separate the communist bloc from the capitalist democracies. Seventy years later, Korea still serves as a buffer zone which separates the economic interests of China and Russia-dominated Northeast Asia from the US-dominated Pacific Rim.

Should any of the actors start changing the equilibrium in Korea, the stabilising forces of reasoning and good judgement will inevitably return the situation to the original and steady balance of threat. Neither the UN intervention in Korea nor the Chinese counterattack in 1950 could help Koreans to reunify their country. Similarly, North Korea’s progress in building their nuclear and rocket deterrent (independently from what is promised by the alliance with China) will be counterbalanced by the return of US-owned nuclear weapons to South Korea or by the resumption of Seoul’s indigenous nuclear program, which was abandoned in the 1970s. When the balance of threat is restored, a temporary period of improved inter-Korean and DPRK-US relations will follow. Peaceful or hostile co-existence in Korea serves the interests of the ruling elites in both Koreas and benefits their foreign partners too.

Imagining the catastrophic consequences of a new war in Korea is pointless because everyone (in Pyongyang and Seoul, Washington and Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo) understands the risks associated with imminent nuclear retaliation. After the 2006 nuclear test North Korea is a fully-fledged nuclear power and what was previously possible (or at least hypothetically imaginable) with regards to a military action against Pyongyang is simply out of question these days. Whether Washington admits the reality or continues to produce the self-deceitful blandishments of a surgical strike against North Korea, a new hot war in Korea is not feasible simply because it serves no ones’ interest.

First, it would be suicidal for the aggressor and equally catastrophic for the victim of aggression. Second, when the nuclear dust settles the presumed victor would not know what to do with the trophy. The Kim dynasty would not survive another war for unification. Democratically elected government in Seoul would not know how to rule the third of its (newly acquired) population who is not familiar with the concept self-organisation. The cost of damaged physical infrastructure rebuilding will be dwarfed by the long-term expenditures required for maintaining social order in the conquered territories, re-education and lustration of the captured population. Survivors would prefer to seek refuge in a third country out of fear for revenge and reprisals. The exodus of Korean reunification is not something that regional neighbours are ready to welcome or absorb. It will take years and trillions of dollars before Korea can recover after the shock of violent unification.

Even a peaceful unification is likely to pose threat to Korea’s neighbours. The windfall of natural resources and economical labour force, if combined with advanced technologies and nationalism-driven investments, will help Korea outperform the industrial powerhouse of Japan and enter into open competition with China. A narrow but strategically located Russo-Korean border corridor will link the European markets and Siberian oil with Korean industrial producers. An underwater tunnel, once completed between Korean and Japan, will undermine the Sino-American duopoly and link the peninsula with the islands.

If the North and South are unified, the presence of US troops will be questioned not only in Korea but in Japan as well. US security alliance structures across the Pacific will crumble, followed by economic and technological withdrawal from the region. Even the new Cold War against China and Russia won’t help Washington to prevent the major rollback of American influence in Asia and the Pacific. Russia and China, as well, upon losing the common adversary will need to resume competition and power struggle for regional hegemony. Thus, the unification of Korea will open a new era of regional tensions, which nobody is really prepared to endure.

Korea today, however divided and problematic, is a capstone of regional peace and stability which must not be touched by political adventurists. The balance of Northeast Asian regional security architecture has been hinging on the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which proved to be sold and robust enough to survive many international conflicts. Even the acquisition of nuclear armaments by North Korea is not going to change the inter-Korean relations or Koreans’ relations with neighbours. However, if North Korea is deliberately targeted or attacked and destroyed, as has been threatened from the UN podium, that would trigger the processes far beyond of our imagination and control and inevitably lead to tectonic shifts in politics, security and economy of the region, which collectively produces and consumes approximately 19% of the global Gross Domestic Product. Surely, nobody will play with fire when so much is at stake.





In Show of Force, US Bomber Trains Over S. Korea

20 03 2013

B-52(VOA News, March 20, 2013) The United States has run its second training mission this month of the nuclear-capable B-52 bomber over the Korean peninsula in a show of military force following North Korea’s threats of a nuclear war.

The U.S. Forces Korea says the B-52 Stratofortress practiced dropping bombs on targets at a range in South Korea, Tuesday. It also released several photos of the aircraft, along with the warning that U.S. and South Korean forces are “battle-ready and trained to employ air power to deter aggression” and defend Seoul against any attack.

U.S. officials describe the mission, and an earlier one conducted March 8, as a “routine” part of annual joint military drillswith Seoul. But they have also been explicit that the flights are meant to send a strong message to Pyongyang, which has threatened a preemptive nuclear attack on the U.S. following U.N. sanctions the North’s latest nuclear test.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson George Little on Monday said the flights send a “very strong signal” the U.S. is firmly committed to its alliance with Seoul. He says the United States is “drawing attention to the fact we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric.”

Carl Baker, with the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum think-tank, says he is certain the North Koreans are paying attention to the drills and are “very familiar” with what the B-52 flyovers represent.

“The United States is trying to send a very strong signal to North Korea that it is not going to bend; that it is not going to go back to negotiations just because North Korea has expressed commitment to using nuclear weapons,” said Baker.

But, although North Korea appears to be getting the message, it has not shown signs of backing down. A foreign ministry spokesperson in the North promised Wednesday a “strong military counteraction” if the U.S. continues the B-52 flyovers. In comments carried in the official Korean Central News Agency, he calls the flights an “unpardonable provocation” and says the situation is “inching close to the brink of war.”

Leonid Petrov, a Korea researcher at the Australian National University, says he expects more of that kind of talk from North Korea, as a result of the B-52 missions and corresponding war drills. He thinks the exercises are further destabilizing the situation, leaving Pyongyang with little choice but to continue developing nuclear weapons to survive.

“I think it’s pretty understandable that the people of Korea are quite indignant at the resumption of this flight and the regular U.S.-South Korean military drills,” said Petrov. “We know that strategic bombers have been used by the U.S. military in the North Pacific to scare North Korea.”

Daniel Pinkston, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, says he is not sure whether the projection of American military power will be successful in reducing tensions on the peninsula. But, he says demonstrating U.S. military superiority will likely succeed in deterring North Korea from carrying out a nuclear attack.

“In the past, when [the North Koreans] have embarked upon military adventurism, it has been at times when the opposing forces are off-guard or when the North Koreans view them as being weak,” said Pinkston. “So, I think these types of exercises and training sends a very clear signal that deters and greatly reduces the likelihood of North Korea lashing out in violent ways as they have done on numerous occasions in the past century.”

Pinkston says North Korea – which operates with the songun, or military first, ideology – is “very very cognizant” of the military balance between it and Washington.

“When they know they will take a severe beating, then they will behave. But, when you are weak, they won’t behave – then they will use violence and force to push their agenda,” he added.

The U.S.-South Korean military drills, known as Foal Eagle, began March 1 and are scheduled to last until the end of April. A separate, computer-simulated round of drills, known as Key Resolve, began on March 11 and last through Thursday.

North Korea had threatened military action if the United States continues with the computer-based drills. Washington has disregarded the threat and proceeded as normal. Although Pyongyang claims to have scrapped the 60-year armistice deal that ended the Korean War, it is yet to follow through on its threats of violence.





Moscow Supports Kim Jong-Un

29 06 2012

(By Leonid Petrov, The Montréal Review, 28 July 2012)

Russia claims it is willing to link divided Korea with energy pipelines and electricity grids. But its economic relations with North Korea indicate a return to the Cold War politics of the past.

In 1948 Stalin sponsored the creation of the DPRK in the Northern half of the Korean peninsula. The following year, Prime Minister Kim Il-sung travelled to Moscow to collect a 2% interest loan of 212 million Soviet Rubles. Some of this money was allocated to build the centrally-planned economy, but much of the funding was used to fuel unification efforts in a war against South Korea between 1950 and 1953. After the end of the disastrous Korean War, the Soviet Union continued to help North Korea with the rebuilding of its cities, industry and infrastructure.

Even during the Sino-Soviet ideological split in the 1960s and 1970s, Moscow tried to curry favour with Pyongyang throughout its confrontation with Beijing. As a bastion of Communism in the Far East that directly faced US troops on the Korean peninsula, North Korea successfully managed to squeeze money from both of its allies during the Cold War. But when the iron curtain fell in the early 1990s, the Democrats in Moscow swiftly recognized Seoul and demanded the payment of debts from Pyongyang.

The timing could not have been worse for North Korea. Most of the country’s capital had been wasted on non-productive sectors, an oversized army, ideological campaigns and extravagant monuments. All that North Korea could offer to Russia as payment-in-kind was a humble list of export goods that did not exceed pickles, cigarettes and ginseng-based medicines. With the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 and the beginning of natural disasters in 1995, North Korea’s agonising industrial and agricultural sectors collapsed, killing some 3 million people in three consecutive years of famine.

South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008) and growing humanitarian aid from other regional neighbours permitted North Korea to weather the “Arduous March”; finally showing some signs of recovery in the early 2000s. It was around this time that Moscow once again raised the issue of North Korea’s debt, which had already been calculated at nearly US $8 billion. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chairman Kim Jong-il visited each other twice to discuss this and other bilateral issues, creating an impression that the debt would be written off rather than paid in full.

In August last year, at the last summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the Russian President Medvedev, the parties agreed to move forward on a proposal to build a pipeline that would be capable of transporting Russian natural gas to both Koreas. Simultaneously, North Korea and Russia signed a protocol calling for economic cooperation between the two countries. But international observers immediately questioned the feasibility of such a project in the midst of an ongoing inter-Korean conflict.

The oil markets of the last ten years have been favourable for Russia, allowing the country to save hundreds of billions of petro-dollars from the sale of energy-rich natural resources to its neighbours. Expecting an impoverished North Korea to pay off a Soviet-era debt, which today amounts to US $11 billion, would be unrealistic. Last week the Russian government agreed to discount 90 % of the debt owed by its destitute but stubborn ally. The remaining USD $1.1 billion was promised to be invested in joint Russian-North Korean projects, particularly in education, medical and energy sectors.

One may be surprised by the timing and generosity of the deal. Despite promises of a new era of strength and prosperity, this year saw the DPRK at odds with old evils. The coldest winter and the driest summer in decades have dashed its expectations for a proper harvest. The embarrassment of a faulty rocket launch in April was compounded by the withdrawal of US food-aid and international condemnation. The hyper-inflation of North Korean currency and the continuing energy crisis are not the propitious signs of effective governance by the newest leader in the Kim dynasty. Is Russia trying to help Kim Jong-un consolidate political power and overcome mounting economic difficulties?

This year Russia experienced the return of the Kremlin veteran, Vladimir Putin, to the presidential seat. Although he is associated with political reaction and is concerned by the prospect of “colour revolutions” at home, Russia is desperately running out of friends on the international stage. With Libya and Syria having already become victims of the “Arab Spring”, Moscow is scrambling to buttress dictatorial regimes in its vicinity. Anti-Americanism and curtailed political freedoms once again have become the primary criteria in gaining Kremlin sympathies. Belarus, Iran, the countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and now North Korea, have all received special treatment from the increasingly anti-Western Russia.

Whereas Beijing was once the only power that remained content to sink trillions of Yuan into North Korea simply to prop up a buffer state ruled by an anachronistic regime, Moscow is now returning to an East Asia policy that echoes of the Cold War. Instead of reprimanding Kim Jong-un for his provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, Putin is dumping of trillions of tax-payers’ roubles into supporting a friendly dictator. Moscow’s empty promises to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program are in clear conflict with North Korea’s determination to remain a self-proclaimed nuclear power for the sake of its regime survival.

Northeast Asia is again becoming a theatre for large-scale geostrategic games where powerful empires scrum in a noxious struggle for domination, leaving 75 million Koreans in a state of anxious suspense.  Given the current situation, hopes for peace and reconciliation remain untenable.

See the Korean version of this article here… 모스크바는 김정은을 지지한다?





Towards co-operative partnership with two Koreas

8 01 2012

 (Leonid Petrov, Public speech at the Regional Meeting of ROK National Unification Advisory Council in Sydney, 28 Oct. 2011)

In March 2008, the then newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared his foreign policy philosophy and promised that “during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference”. Rudd assured the audience that the new Australian government was committed to the principle of “creative middle-power diplomacy” as the best means of enhancing Australia’s national interests.

Since then Australia has already made great steps forward in departing from the one-sided conservative foreign policy of the Howard Years. The Australian Labor Party now proudly states that its foreign policy platform is based on the three pillars – alliance with the US, active membership of the UN, and comprehensive engagement with Asia – that manifest realism, liberal internationalism, and regionalism. Given this approach, how can Australia develop a comprehensive and co-operative partnership with the two Koreas and contribute to the building of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region?

In April 2011, while visiting Seoul, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard admitted that “China, Japan and Korea are countries of vital strategic and economic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and to Australia. They are Australia’s top three export destinations and three of Australia’s top four trading partners overall”. But at the Korean War memorial in Kapyong (the place of fierce fighting between Australians and Chinese), she brushed off the prospects for resuming denuclearisation talks with North Korea, saying “There’s no point just saying ‘sit down and talk’, if the talks are not going to achieve anything.”

Despite the pledge for a balanced regional partnership, Australia maintains strong relations with the ROK but minimal relations with the DPRK. While maintaining formal diplomatic links, Canberra has little plans to open its embassy in Pyongyang. Most bilateral cooperation with the North has been put on hold by the Australian side “until the nuclear-weapon crisis is resolved”. The closure of the DPRK’s embassy in Canberra in 2008 seemed to be a logical outcome of this freeze in relations. There is little discussion of the future of Australia-DPRK relations in the media. Reports on trade with North Korea produced by the Australian government reflect a pessimistic posture.

Certainly, the DPRK is not an ordinary state and its social order is unique in today’s world. To deal with North Korea successfully we must remember and understand Cold War history and its consequences for the region. The reality of the inter-Korean conflict must be taken into account whenever we try to engage in dialogue or cooperation. Sensibility and understanding in dealing with Korea and Koreans are as important as first-hand knowledge of their country, language and culture. Sadly, preoccupation with pragmatism and allied solidarity left Australia-Korea relations lopsided.

To be pragmatic means to understand that regime change in North Korea, despite the long-standing predictions, cannot happen in current circumstances. The Korean War has never ended, and as long as regional powers help one side of the divided Korea and bully the other, the division of Korea will continue. Without our full diplomatic recognition, solid security assurance, and fair economic treatment the DPRK will not follow China or Vietnam’s examples in market reforms and democratisation. Instead, North Korea will remain consolidated ideologically with no room for political freedom or economic liberalism.

The demise of its supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, has already triggered the power succession process, which may open new opportunities for negotiations. We also know that man-made and natural disasters began hitting North Korea again, leaving the population weakened and desperate. The fall in grain production around the world and rising international grain prices have also put international food donors into a difficult situation. Last year the World Food Program (WFP) warned that North Korea would need massive food aid in the coming months to avert widespread hunger caused by severe floods, economic sanctions, and ineffective diplomacy.

In the meantime, inter-Korean relations have deteriorated to a level previously known only in the Cold War era. The sinking of the Cheonan Corvette and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island are commonly attributed to Pyongyang’s “erratic and dangerous behavior”, but are rarely associated with Seoul’s actions in the disputed waters around the controversial Northern-Limit Line. Neither of these incidents would have occurred if the agreements of the June 2000 and October 2007 Inter-Korean Summits had been implemented. The Peace and Prosperity (or “Sunshine”) Policy had prioritised economic and humanitarian cooperation over political and military considerations, and was quite effective.

These days, South Korean producers dump millions of tons of quality food that could bring famine relief to their brethren in the North. I think that it would be much wiser for the ROK government to assume more active responsibility for the wellbeing of the people residing in the territories which will sooner or later become part of the unified Korea. Similarly, an Australia that routinely helps the flood victims in Myanmar and drought victims in Afghanistan could more actively assist the impoverished people of North Korea. Wouldn’t it be better if the Labor government in Canberra, together with administrations in Seoul and Pyongyang could cement the foundation for a new balanced relationship?

As the first step towards ending the war in Northeast Asia the mutual recognition of both the ROK and DPRK is necessary. Although both governments understand the pros and cons of peaceful co-existence the Cold War mentality that dominates the region does not permit such an option. In order to resolve the Korean knot both competing states in the North and South should dismantle the thesis of exclusive legitimacy on the peninsula, on which the whole building of their respective identities and statehood are founded. Sadly, as long as the ideology of nationalism permeates their domestic politics, I don’t think it is possible.

Confrontation will continue indefinitely until the regional powers decide to interrupt the vicious circle and change the paradigm of relations. But to make this situation sustainable, a special status (neutral and non-nuclear) should be given to the Korean peninsula with no place for foreign troops or conflicting alliances. Only this would stop the century-long foreign rivalry for domination in Korea, and help the Koreans reconcile.

While the Cold War mentality rules inter-Korean relations and limits contacts between the people of North and South Korea to an absolute minimum, it is impossible to expect much support from below either. The best example of balance between the grass-root initiative and government actions was achieved during the 10 years of Sunshine Policy. Its main principles were: “give first, take later” and “easy tasks first, difficult tasks later”. It’s time to understand that there is no alternative to such policy, and the sooner the ROK government resumes it the brighter will be the future for Korea and Koreans.

Differences in political views and economic systems must not divide but should rather enhance the value of partnership and help complement each other’s strengths. By intensifying diplomatic ties and expanding economic cooperation with both halves of divided Korea we can make a significant contribution to the peaceful resolution of the nuclear problem and prepare the basis for durable peace and prosperity in the region.

Published as “Toward partnership with two Koreas” (The Korea Times,  01-10-2012)

Publisged as “Towards a co-operative Korean partnership” (A-Times On-line, 10 Jan. 2012)

See report (in Korean) about the Regional Meeting of ROK National Unification Advisory Council in Sydney, 28 Oct. 2011in Korean here…